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Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, July 27, 2000

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Auli'i is played by Tonia Ko, left, Tui Scanlon plays
Papa and Lorelle Saxena is Mama in the Hawaii
Youth Opera production, "Alui 'i."

flex voice muscle

Operatunities: 'Auli'i'
showcases talent of Hawaii
Youth Opera summer grads

By Betty Shimabukuro


WAR is the villain in this opera. War and a compulsion among humans to take what is not theirs. "Why do we fight, why do we take, why do we die, when will it end?" the chorus asks repeatedly in "Auli'i: The Last Menehune of Nu'uanu Valley."

And repeatedly the singers answer their own question: "For power, for riches, for glory."

It's a question for the ages, posed here by the young.

"Auli'i" is a production of Operatunities, a summer program of the Hawai'i Youth Opera Chorus, for singers in grades four through 12. They've spent five weeks putting together this performance of an original piece composed by Herb Mahelona Jr.

In four hours of training each day, the young singers have covered all the dramatic ground that is opera -- not just singing, after all, but also acting, movement, dance, as well as set, prop and costume design.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Queen Liliuokalani is played by Melanie Ah Yo
in Hawaii Youth Opera's "Auli'i."

Performances tonight and tomorrow are their graduation ceremony.

Operatunities has commissioned an original opera every summer since 1994. The piece must be Hawaiian or local in theme and be written for youth players, says Nola Nahulu, executive director of the youth chorus.

Auditions for the summer program are open to all children who wish to explore this demanding discipline, but almost all of this year's 19 participants were already members of the chorus and thus experienced musicians.

Some have spent years studying opera. Mia Evaimolo, a senior at Kamehameha Schools, began singing with the youth chorus in the fourth grade. She has the feature role of the o'o bird Leo, who guides and protects the menehune Auli'i.

At Kamehameha she is able to explore many styles of music, from traditional Hawaiian to band, but it is opera that intrigues her.

"I love the style of music," she says. "Opera is very special. I love being around people who sing in that technique."

Leo, while not the title role, is the most demanding in the opera, and Evaimolo's voice is heard throughout. Auli'i is played as a child by seventh-grader Tonia Ko and as an adult by Mark Ah Yo, an alumnus of the chorus who is now in college. Another alum, Joanna Takagi, now a senior at Pomona College, is back as choral director.

The story sweeps through 200 years of Hawaiian history, seen through the innocent eyes of Auli'i, who is left behind when all the other menehune flee through a time portal to escape the approaching times of violence.

Auli'i and Leo actually bear witness to just three events -- the battle at Nuuanu that sealed Kamehameha the Great's domination, the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the attack on Pearl Harbor. But all three events fuel the chorus' repeated cry: "Why do we fight, why do we take ..."

It's serious stuff for these young voices, but stage director Kyle Kakuno says he's impressed by their skill.

"These kids get up there and bare their souls to the audience, and that's as magical as it gets when it comes to any type of drama."

On stage

Bullet What: Hawai'i Youth Opera Chorus presents "Auli'i: The Last Menehune of Nu'uanu Valley"
Bullet When: 7 p.m. today and tomorrow
Bullet Where: Hawaii Theatre
Bullet Tickets: $10
Bullet Call: 521-2982

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